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As Gaza death toll surpasses 20,000, Israel says its offensive will continue

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

The number of people who have died in Gaza from the Israel-Hamas war has now surpassed more than 20,000 people, according to the Ministry of Health there. And health officials say starvation and disease outbreaks are imminent. NPR's Carrie Kahn joins us from Tel Aviv. Carrie, thanks for being with us.

CARRIE KAHN, BYLINE: Thanks for having me.

SIMON: U.N. agencies and others have been giving increasingly dire warnings about conditions in Gaza. What's the latest you've heard?

KAHN: First of all, more than 85% of Gazans, according to the U.N., have been displaced from their homes and into southern Gaza. That's in and around the city of Rafah. That's nearly 2 million people, Scott. Food and water is scarce; as are toilets. Hundreds of thousands of kids under 5 are on the brink of severe malnutrition. And that's according to UNICEF. Overcrowding is an understatement. Most people are living in schools or makeshift tents. Electricity is sporadic. And it rained hard here last night, with thunder, and it's cold.

SIMON: You've had some communications with one of our producers in Gaza, Anas Baba. What have you heard from him?

KAHN: It's been very hard to keep in touch with him this week. He was able to send us some interviews about people dealing with the lack of phone and internet services. I want to play you a little bit from Mohammed Al Namla. He's describing this hopelessness that he feels of not being in communication with anyone.

MOHAMMED AL NAMLA: (Speaking Arabic).

KAHN: He's saying, "We suffer from war and bombings everywhere, and then you can't even check up on the safety of your brother, who could be living just 100 meters away. There's no way to just communicate and ask, are you OK? Do you need anything or require help?"

SIMON: Carrie, what has Israel said about the displacement of so many civilians? And is there any indication of when people can begin to go back home, even if it's been destroyed?

KAHN: I'll note that Israel says it is Hamas that has put so many civilians in danger, and that's by building tunnels and command centers and storing weapons in these dense populated places. Israel has just ordered new evacuations for even more residents out of central Gaza. I just want to play you a little bit from an English teacher, Bilal Shbeir, who lives in central Gaza. He doesn't know where to go now, and he's still grieving the deaths of some of his students, many who were killed.

BILAL SHBEIR: Those little children and kids are very beautiful. Their hearts are like the birds - little birds. I do love them so much. And I do miss them. I really cried like a little boy. It's - it was, like, very tough for me.

KAHN: I'll note that President Biden yesterday says he was heartbroken himself about the news of a 73-year-old Israeli American dual citizen who was believed to be a hostage but had actually been killed by Hamas in the October 7 attack, and his body was taken to Gaza.

SIMON: What do we know about Israel's military phase right now?

KAHN: Military officials say they anticipate soon having, quote, "operational control" around Gaza City in the north. There are fierce battles raging in Khan Younis, one of the largest cities in the south. And that's where they believe that leaders of Hamas are are hiding out. That's according to military officials. Israel's defense minister, Yoav Gallant, said last night that forces are preparing for a further expansion into Gaza.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

YOAV GALLANT: (Speaking Hebrew).

KAHN: Gallant says the operation will be extensive. It will be long, and it will require patience.

SIMON: NPR's Carrie Kahn in Tel Aviv. Thanks so much for being with us.

KAHN: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Scott Simon is one of America's most admired writers and broadcasters. He is the host of Weekend Edition Saturday and is one of the hosts of NPR's morning news podcast Up First. He has reported from all fifty states, five continents, and ten wars, from El Salvador to Sarajevo to Afghanistan and Iraq. His books have chronicled character and characters, in war and peace, sports and art, tragedy and comedy.
Carrie Kahn is NPR's International Correspondent based in Mexico City, Mexico. She covers Mexico, the Caribbean, and Central America. Kahn's reports can be heard on NPR's award-winning news programs including All Things Considered, Morning Edition and Weekend Edition, and on NPR.org.